For many people, the three leading international systems for certifying sustainable buildings – DGNB, LEED and BREEAM – are sometime used in the same breath and the public perception is that they're largely interchangeable. But if you take a closer look at the obvious overlaps between the systems, there are actually a number of fundamental differences, so it's not quite right to consider them synonymous.
For about a quarter of a century, there has been a worldwide movement dedicated to the promotion of sustainable building. A large number of non-profit organisations, state programmes and private initiatives are now committed to greater sustainability in the built environment. Over the years new organisations have been set up in more than 100 countries, such as the Green Building Councils, which provide the movement with a platform on a national level. In Germany, it is the German Sustainable Building Council, or DGNB.
Certifying buildings is an instrument that is established worldwide as a means of evaluating and thus also promoting sustainable building. The DGNB believes that certification should address the key factors that determine sustainable construction methods and make these measurable, comparable and thus available on demand for customers. At the same time, certification should provide incentives to promote more sustainability in building environments during the planning and construction phases of properties. There are many projects, particularly larger ones, where certification is considered a given and seen as key tool of management.
On an international level, there are a large number of certification systems spanning a diverse array of approaches and underlying objectives. The system in the UK, the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM), was the first of its kind when it was introduced in the 1990s. A variety of other countries have also developed their own certification systems. These include for example the American LEED system (short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the French HQE (Haute Qualité Environnementale), CASBEE (Comprehensive Assessment System for Building Environmental Efficiency) in Japan and the Green Star system in Australia.
The DGNB System has existed in Germany since 2009. It was developed by a team of leading experts from the German construction and real estate industry, some of whom went on to found the German Sustainable Building Council – DGNB e.V. – in 2007. The motivation for developing its own new system stemmed from a number of issues, many of them specific to the German construction industry. It was felt that standard certification systems were not doing enough to address key areas. These included, for example, the evolved understanding of planning and building culture in Germany, as well as the strong degree of technical know-how focusing on assessing and validating actual quality. The underlying approach for assessing the sustainable qualities of buildings was developed jointly by the DGNB and the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development at the time (BMVBS). The idea was to bring assessment in line with political persuasion and goals in Germany. The BMVBS had established the basis for assessing federal buildings (BNB System). The DGNB on the other hand developed its own complete certification system, resulting in a wide variety of schemes for different buildings and districts.